I have a few disclaimers to get out of the way before I get started....
- There are some potentially controversial issues present in the story, including genetic engineering, religion, and some real-world politics. This is a work of fiction, designed to tell a story, and is not some sort of personal soapbox. Any resemblances to real people, events and organizations are not intended unless specifically mentioned.
Also, "furries" are present in the story and play an important role. Personally, I would describe it as "tastefully tame", with the characters normally appearing 95% human with the exception of accessories like animal ears, tails, and sharp, protractable trowel-shaped claws attached to a special rotating ball-joint in the final knuckle of their fingers. I would encourage you to at least read as far as the "world summary" in Chapter 1 before letting the "furries" drive you off; you'll find they are not sexual entities, and are human characters first and foremost.
Overall, I try to make everything pretty "realistic" (if that word even means anything worthwhile), but fans of diehard realism will be disappointed on occasion. Case in point: the Tech Armor, a giant humanoid machine portrayed as a practical weapon of war (and advanced genetic engineering, for that matter, but that, too, will be fully explained in time). But I think these deviations from "reality" are justified and at least pay some respect to physics, and that even a disappointed proponent of realism will admit that the effects of these deviations are well explored.
Finally, I know my artwork is terrible. You'll be able to tell which images have been enhanced by someone who knows what they're doing, and I'm always in the market for more assistance.
August 16, 2021
Agariba, First Island, Feral Archipelago
The young girl giggled cheerfully, spinning around with her arms outstretched in the radiant warmth of the tropical sun. She is so beautiful, Felicia thought as the sunlight glistened through her daughter’s golden blonde hair, the same color on her tail as her head. She smiled at the thought as she removed her sunglasses, and her pupils quickly contracted as they adjusted to the brilliant daylight.
It was almost noon. She and her daughter were in the pristine Skyline Park, near the center of the sprawling city. Land was a premium on the Archipelago, which emphasized the park’s size of four square kilometers. The park also hosted the grand fireworks show that concluded Liberty Day, which celebrated the Dominion’s peaceful abdication from Japan in 1976. Before too long, the park would be crowded with spectators, but she had grabbed some of the prime real estate.
“That’s where we’re going to live, Mommy?” the girl asked in wonderment as she pointed into the rich blue sky, sparsely littered with fluffy white clouds.
Felicia followed her finger to the unfinished building. Heavy-lift helicopters were swarmed over the structure, working alongside cranes to hoist a massive segment into place. The highest part of the tower reached nearly three hundred meters into the sky, and it would soar over two kilometers into the sky when it was finished. The grand scale of the Acropolis still stunned her.
“Yes, Angela, once they open the second level.”
“When’s that gonna be?”
“In two weeks,” Felicia said as she lovingly stroked her child’s head. “Then we won’t have to live with Auntie anymore.” She turned around and walked over to the picnic basket. “Come on, time to eat. Don’t want the ants to get your chicken first, do you?” She smiled again as she saw her daughter’s feline ears perk upright at the thought of her favorite food.
Angela ran over to the blanket, pulled herself down into a seated position, and mother and daughter enjoyed themselves to the soft humming of distant helicopters.
Finally! Gavin thought as he sat in the hot, humid seat. After all these months of planning, it’s finally time!
The voyage from California had been a long one, and while he had always felt at home in the sky, he found that the ocean didn’t suit him as well. He didn’t understand how the subtle movements of the large cargo ship had bothered him so, but he had spent much of the trip heaving over the side. But it was all worth it for this.
He didn’t know much about the steely-grey haired, charismatic man who had given them these marvelous weapons, but he certainly was grateful. They lacked nearly all the sophisticated instruments their military brethren possessed, but they had the teeth of a Kiowa Warrior II. He wondered how The Dutiful had come upon that man, and how he had the resources to upgrade six old JetRangers into weapons that could compete with the new American Army “scout” helicopter. His own craft had a .50 caliber machinegun with 1,600 rounds hanging beneath him and eight guided rockets suspended to the sides, and another craft was loaded identically. Two more carried six Stingers and four rockets each, and the final two helicopters each mounted two Hellfire missiles and twelve rockets. Outdated weapons, perhaps, but still very formidable.
He knew none of them would live to see the sun set, but first they would smite these wretched abominations of God!
“Gavin! Williamson! You guys ready?”
“Yeah, just open the damn doors already,” Gavin muttered with frustration and restrained excitement. He looked up as the doors above him slowly tilted open, and he and his comrades lit their engines in unison. He waited until the doors were completely open, then he rose out of the cargo bay at a cautious rate.
He winced as his eyes adjusted to the bright mid-day sun, and then he saw the three human figures on the ground. No, those aren’t human, he reminded himself, and he swung his responsive little craft around and brought his cannon to bear on the woman and two men who were to be his first prey. He almost laughed at their astonishment and terror. They tried to flee, and he opened fire. A buzz-saw racket filled the busy harbor, and he felt his stomach churn with glee at the sight of their blood spattering in all directions as the massive bullets shred through their unprotected bodies. The woman was torn apart at the waist, and her legs landed a few meters away from her torso. A corner of Gavin’s mind cursed the noisy rotary blades, for they muted the useless screams he longed to hear. He urged his helicopter forward, and his comrades began to pull their craft one by one out of the cramped cargo bay.
“Gavin, 10 o’clock!” Williamson’s thundering voice bellowed over Gavin’s headset. He turned his chopper accordingly, and spotted the pair of security personnel. They were firing at him with their pistols, but the range was too great for the small arms to hit the craft before he killed the guards. The blood-soaked docks wooden surface snapped and collapsed under the fire of his cannon, and the corpses dropped from his view and into the water. He glimpsed at least five more guards at the start of the next dock to his right, but they quickly sought cover in a nearby shack. His fleet little bird turned to face the cowards, and Gavin let loose a single rocket. He watched the missile streak towards his target and smiled as the white trail merged with the shack, leaving behind a brief ball of billowing flame. It quickly cleared, and he saw there was nothing left of the guards.
“You ready yet, Roy?” Gavin asked, and nodded in satisfaction as his sixth pilot to leave the ship responded. “Alright, split it up and head in,” he commanded in an unusually calm voice.
One of the helicopters carrying Hellfires swung behind him and to his right, while one carrying Stingers formed on his left. The other three craft clustered together several hundred meters away, and the two groups of death left the ravaged harbor behind them as they advanced into the city.
“Damnit!” Captain Klara Yulia, Feral Army, grumbled through clenched teeth as she worked on the gigantic humanoid armor inside the concrete hangar. “This is the toughest piece of ceramic I’ve ever seen, but it’s damn near impossible to reattach!” She gave a strenuous tug on the wrench, and the bolt finally locked into place.
“See, that wasn’t so bad, Ma’am” Lieutenant Takashi Yamamoto laughed as he climbed the side of the armor to stand beside her on the humanoids stomach. “Besides, that slab will probably save your life one day,” he said with his infectiously dry humor.
Klara looked him sternly in the eye for a moment, then laughed and gave him a slight shove, which almost proved to be enough to knock him off the small torso. “I know, I know, but I’m going to let those R&D types know just how awkward it is to replace those things without power tools. I know I wouldn’t want to have to do this in a place I didn’t have any.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied more seriously. “Would suck to do this in a real hurry. But are you going to be going to The Show when you get out of here?”
“Yeah, want to come with me?” she said, intentionally tilting her head to the side.
“Sure thing. Which reminds me,” Takashi drifted off as he turned on his heels and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Me and Stian were going to have a little cookout at my place after The Show, anyone who wants to come, just show up. We’ll have plenty of food, so you don’t have to tell me now.”
Once the cheering died down, Klara turned back to business. “After Stian and I finish up with our plates, we’re going run a check and make sure these are ready for the test firing tomorrow.”
“Well, since I’ve already finished with mine, want some help on that last piece?”
“Nah, thanks but I’ve got it,” she said as she hunched over the final segment of ceramic armor covering her cockpit’s personnel hatch. As much of a pain as it was to replace the ceramic armor on the Type 2, at least it was better than on the original. It wasn’t even possible to replace the armor on those by hand. She was still amazed at how much of an improvement the Tech Armor Type 2 was over it’s predecessor. But then again, it should be, as the Type 1 was actually an early test model that got rushed into mass production. The Feral Dominion was in need of a large fighting force, and a cheaper weapon that could be operated by a single person was needed.
The original was a marvel itself, for it could walk with nearly perfect reliability over any terrain, but just doing that much required too much of the pilot’s attention for it to cover any appreciable distance while in combat without some sort of diversion from other units. But it could only walk, and even on ideal ground, it could only do 50 kph. Anyone who knew anything about mechanical design would take one look at it and have nightmares about the maintenance it must require to keep all the moving parts functional, but they would be mistaken. It had many moving parts compared to a tank, but due to clever design, wear and stress were kept to a minimum. Perhaps even more amazing, it could take far more abuse than any tank could expect to take. While it didn’t have as much armor overall, the flexibility of the humanoid design meant that it could continue to operate without it’s arms, head, and parts of it’s torso. But the layered armor was covered by shaped slabs of a durable new ceramic which rendered any covered section virtually invincible to a single hit. It could even withstand modern HEAT rounds without the layered armor being penetrated, though this always trashed the ceramic slabs. Sophisticated computers constantly calculated the TA’s dispersed weight, and would help the pilot keep it balanced while it walked, as well as reduce the use of the arm-mounted rifle to a matter of the pilot looking at a target and pushing a button. It also carried a shield attached to the left arm, and the computers would automatically maneuver it to intercept missiles. The forehead mounted 25mm automated cannons. The shoulders mounted the Dart-1 system, which was comprised of 24 small vertical-launch multipurpose missiles. But the main weapon was the rifle, which could fire 104mm rounds at a surprisingly high rate of fire.
As much of a breakthrough as the TA Type 1 was, the Type 2 was an even better design. Walking could now be handled simply by moving the throttle, and required no further attention. That would soon be refitted into the older TAs. But the new model was noticeably lighter, and could actually run at a speed of over 80 kph, although the jerky maneuver would never be confused for sprinting. It could also use a combination of vectored thrusters and powerful compressors in its legs to skirt above flat, solid terrain at just under 150 kph for an extended period of time. In addition, there were potent thrusters built into it’s back that could keep it airborne for up to 5 minutes. It could carry a larger shield, and there were two more point defense cannons, each mounted in a stump on the shoulders. Many steps were taken to reduce maintenance issues, such as simplified internal motors and the ability to replace ceramic slabs in the field. And the power plant in the Type 2 was an improved ver-
“Captain!” Klara’s chief technician exclaimed from the hangar’s entrance, where he was standing with his communicator. “Captain, we just got a call from Gaia! Agariba harbor was attacked by six heavily armed helicopters, and they’re on their way into the city, headed towards Skyline Park! We can get there before Gaia’s response helicopters!”
“What?!” Klara only let out that one exclamation before training overrode her panic at the impossible scenario. When she spoke again, it was with her natural, assured voice of command. “All right, we’re leaving immediately. You all know what to do.”
The three pilots raced into their TA’s, which Colonel Atwater had insisted be fully armed for tomorrow’s field test, and the squad’s maintenance crew rushed to the vehicles that hauled the TAs around when they weren’t active. The transports discharged their startup capacitors and breathed life into the powerful mechs, and then tilted them into the upright position as the TAs Safe Suppression Reactors came on line. With the full force of a controlled nuclear explosion powering them, the first three TA Type 2s ever made skirted out of the military compound at their maximum speed, hell bent on the destruction of the invaders.
Gavin had to keep himself from chuckling. It was amusing, really, the way the police actually tried to engage the helicopters. They carried only small arms, and it would take a very lucky hit to damage the Dutiful, but they seemed eager to throw their lives away against them just the same. Controlled bursts from his cannon sufficed, and the two groups proceeded down parallel streets. They were holding themselves low, using the city’s skyscrapers as cover from any planes that might respond. No, they were safe from planes. The next threat they had to worry about was helicopters, and those would take several minutes to respond. They’d managed to achieve total surprise, but if the police were any indication, that surprise was disappearing quickly.
“We’re closing in, Gavin,” Williamson’s deep voice pronounced across their radios.
“Yes, I know,” Gavin said in mild frustration. For weeks, he’d been bothered by thoughts of that steely-grey haired man. He hadn’t gotten a good look at him, but he knew he’d seen him somewhere before, and it was bothering him more than ever. The Acropolis came into view as they turned onto a perpendicular street, and something else appeared with it. He felt a sudden sense of triumph as it registered.
“Roy, fire at the three helicopters on the right. Thaddeus, take down the other three.”
“Yes, Sir!” the two pilots with Stingers responded in unison, and six deadly missiles raced ahead.
Felicia instinctively grabbed her daughter and ran as sirens and screaming filled the air about them. The crowd gasped and pointed at something behind her. She turned to look, and was paralyzed by the sight.
Six fireballs filled the sky above the Acropolis where lifter helicopters had been. The cords they had carried went limp, and the crane cables snapped violently under the weight of the massive segment. The segment joined the flaming helicopters on their plunge to Earth, and crushed a portion of the second level of the Acropolis beneath it. Then the first level caved in beneath the carnage, crushing those who lived there.
She stood staring at the plume of dust and debris where her home was supposed to be, and the cacophony of disaster crashed upon her. Then her survival instincts kicked in. She ran away from the wreckage, and looked frantically for somewhere – anywhere! – to seek shelter. There! She ran for a nearby hill, where a security officer was waving people into the inconspicuous subway tunnel.
Neither she nor the terrified child clinging to her side saw the rocket come streaking towards them.
The initial salvo had done so well that Gavin had sent Williamson and his group to bombard the crowded park while he stayed to destroy the unfinished tower. The plan had called for them to stay together, but no plan survived the first few seconds of combat.
“Thaddeus and George, fire your rockets into the supports, but hold two and your specials in reserve,” he commanded, and the three helicopters sprayed seventeen rockets into the three closest supports. To his astonishment, none of the supports gave way. “Damn, screw the reserve, aim for the center one!”
The remaining six rockets slammed into the closest support for the second level. Gavin almost swore as the smoke cleared, for the battered column refused to collapse. What the hell are they making this out of? Then, slowly, the abused column began to shift, and then it broke into several large pieces and disintegrated. The edge of the second level visibly bowed downward under the strain of its own weight, but the cursed structure refused to succumb any further to gravity.
“Williamson, I’m going to need you over here after all, how many roc-”
His voice died in his throat as he saw the ghastly form appear amidst the buildings five blocks in front of them. It took him a precious second to realize that it was humanoid, fourteen meters in height. By God, how did they make that!? It’s right arm was already extended, with a massive rifle aimed towards him, and the shielded left arm was held in front of it’s chest. A thin cloud appeared from the titan’s rifle, and a deafening inferno appeared where Thaddeus’ helicopter had existed a moment ago. Before Gavin could even grasp the situation, another giant appeared to his left.
George’s voice erupted into a primal roar over the radio, and two Hellfire missiles blazed towards the first TA. Gavin shook his head to clear the surprise, and opened fire with his own gun just as the second robot swept George aside with another explosion. Sparks danced across the abomination in front of him as his rounds hit into it’s shield, but many muzzle flashes burst from the robot’s forehead and small stumps on each shoulder, and both of the Hellfire’s exploded prematurely.
The world around Gavin seemed to slow. He no longer felt panic, even as he stared down the barrel of the weapon crafted by his foes. In that moment, as if a final gift from God before the afterlife, he remembered where he had seen that man with the steely-gray hair.
This attack had been about much more than the Acropolis, Gavin realized. He had fought well for The Dutiful, and had even won some very valuable information on the Ferals. It was up to The Dutiful and that man now. War would come to the Feral Dominion, and they would be destroyed!
Another thin cloud appeared from the giant’s rifle, and Gavin’s world became nothing more than flames and flying metal.
Klara saw the three helicopters as she swept out of the towering buildings and into the open. Alerted by their comrade’s battle cry, they were already moving in her direction. She looked at one of them, and a green ring formed around it on her visor. She pressed a small key just below her right trigger, a tone sounded as the ring turned red, and she squeezed the trigger firmly. Her rifle recoiled as the explosive round cleared the barrel, and the helicopter was replaced with a conical plume of flame. Klara tried not to hate them, but they had murdered her citizens in cold blood. She’d always considered the islands to be impervious, and the thought of these monsters spraying down civilians with rockets gave her a whole new ferocity.
She turned her head to target the next helicopter, and tilted her left stick to the side to evade as the helicopters returned fire. She opened fire and killed the second helicopter as her defensive cannons killed the first rocket, but seven more rockets and two Hellfire’s were still streaking toward her in a stream of destruction. She traveled in an S-curve, and two of the rockets lost track of her TA and slammed uselessly into the ground. Seizing her chance for attack, she targeted the remaining helicopter and fired two Dart missiles. The long, slender missiles jumped out of their vertical launch cells in the shoulders, then arced forward and raced towards the final helicopter. They stabbed into the fragile helicopter, using kinetic energy to pierce into the heart of their target, then the impact-delay fuses detonated their tungsten warheads. The helicopter burst like a flammable balloon.
One of the Hellfires was intercepted by her guns, then two more rockets, but then the remaining missiles were upon her. Her shield intercepted the leading rocket, then the following rocket. Her back-mounted thrusters flared to keep the colossal machine from falling over, and her cannons failed to engage the final rocket as it turned sharply and slammed into the robot’s knee. The machine staggered violently, and the confused interception system failed to place the shield in front of the remaining Hellfire.
The shaped-charge warhead exploded, and the molten stream of copper pierced straight into the exposed armor of the cockpit. The last thing Klara saw was fractured pieces of hot metal erupting into her.